Outside-In: Davíð Brynjar Franzson

The latest field recording in my Outside-In project comes from Icelandic composer Davíð Brynjar Franzson. His recording was made a few days ago in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, and in contrast to the previous recordings i’ve featured, it’s something rather different, primarily because i think it’s fair to say it contains precisely no natural sounds; everything in it is human-made. Here’s Davíð’s introduction to it:

I tried a few things, including hanging my Zoom out my window on the 45th floor. All you can hear is the hum of the air conditioners on the smaller buildings across the street until prayer cuts through it. The singing is actually the evening prayer; the government instructed people to pray from home for all of Ramadan and Eid but they still do the prayer singing to guide people.

This is after curfew so there are very few cars around, but apart from that, the ongoing hum of a thousand air conditioners (which is kind of the natural background when it’s 40 degrees outside) forming into what is basically a wall of noise, with this heavily reverb-sounding prayer coming through, feels good to me. It is a very static soundscape, but it has a certain simplicity to it that I really like.

Of all the recordings featured thus far in Outside-In, this is the one i find most mesmeric. The omnipresent air-con noise sounds like an amalgamation of the wind and the sea, and it’s interesting to listen to in and of itself. Occasionally there’s the sound of a car beneath, but for the most part we’re left to contemplate the random, roaring stasis of the noise. Here and there i find myself hearing small high-frequency ‘chirrups’, not unlike insect sounds, that may or may not be imaginary – it’s always interesting to hear what happens when the brain is forced to contend with such ostensibly blank walls of diffusion. But of course the most compelling part is the call to prayer that occupies around half of the recording. Despite being so distant that it’s almost subsumed by the noise, the muezzin’s voice reverberates and bounces off the buildings, etching a wondrous line of melody through the dense air-con fug. The curious thing is that the ‘tonic’ of this melody (G natural) becomes teased out of the noise, temporarily turning it into a complex kind of drone. Again, this is probably an aural illusion, but for me it happens every time i listen. And once the muezzin finishes, sometimes the drone collapses back into an amorphous wall of undifferentiated noise, yet sometimes i can still hear an imaginary trace of that G natural. Fascinating.

i said this was different from the other Outside-In recordings due to its general lack of natural sounds, yet the fact that this was recorded indoors is especially significant at the present time when lockdowns and curfews continue to be a daily part of existence for many countries. It’s a wonderful account of what can be heard – inside, 45 floors up – if you just stick your head (or your Zoom) out of the window.

All of the recordings featured in Outside-In are available to download or stream; there’s no charge for downloading, but you’re free to make a payment if you wish, and all proceeds made will be shared among the contributors.

If you have a recording you would like to be considered for this project, please see the Call for Recordings information below.


Call for Recordings

If you have a recording you would like to be considered for Outside-In, the guidelines are very simple:

  • approximately 5-15 minutes’ duration – long enough to allow some decent immersion;
  • no obvious editing – recordings can be discreetly edited but should generally sound like a single recording, with no sudden cuts;
  • no indoor or underwater recordings – all in the open air;
  • no speech or overt human noises, apart from perhaps in the distance or as a part of the ambiance/surroundings;
  • the recording doesn’t need to be made using high-end equipment, but should be good enough to be enjoyed transparently, without attention drawn to its shortcomings.

Please note: the idea is that the recordings were made before the lockdown, but if you would like to make one that reflects the current, quieter state of the world – without breaking any local rules on going outside in the process! – then that’s absolutely fine.

To send your recording, please use the 5:4 Contact form and in the “Your Message” section please include the following:

  • a download link to your recording (via WeTransfer, or equivalent), which should preferably be in compressed lossless format (e.g. FLAC – no lossy recordings!);
  • information about the place, time and situation in which the recording took place – as much or as little detail as you would like to share;
  • a Google Maps link to the exact/approximate location where the recording was made.
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